As recent grads are feverishly packing to move into their new college dorms, a common fear that unites them all is impending homesickness. Homesickness, or culture shock, is something nothing can prepare you for. The reason is that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint one thing in your new surrounding that makes you feel homesick. Through the uncontrollable tears that will inevitably come for some, the feeling does not last forever — I promise.
A few summers ago, I traveled to Italy for an exchange program. The months leading up to it, I could barely contain my excitement. In the midst of everything I had to do to prepare for the trip, I skimmed through the pre-departure orientation. I got the gist: accept cultural differences, be open minded, and of course, wear your helmet when riding a bike. I had all this information in the back of my head. I didn’t give a second thought to any of it. “I’m an easy-going person,” I thought, “Obviously it’s different, it’s Italy, but how different can it really be!?” I would tell myself. Little did I know, that easy going person I thought I was, was going to have a VERY difficult time adjusting.
I arrived in Bologna, Italy without breaking a sweat. The real challenge came the next day when our host families picked us up from the luxury hotel we were staying at. As all of my brand new friends got picked up by their amazingly enthusiastic families, one by one, I was getting so excited to meet mine! I began to worry, however, when at 6 PM, (3 hours after we were supposed to be picked up,) I was the only student left. After waiting a little longer, a lone older man came through the doors. This was my host family.
We drove about 20 minutes outside the city center to get home that night, and upon arriving I opened snapchats from everyone else in the group playing with their new host siblings, dogs, cats, or American peers. They seemed to have each other in this brand new environment. Meanwhile, I was all alone in my room. I was jealous, simply put. I was upset that my mom had worked all those extra hours to send me here and I was sitting in a room. I was upset that my year of anticipation led to nothing but homesickness.
The next day in our Italian lessons a friend I had made, Ava, was talking about how she cried the night before as well. She missed her family and friends, and was too shy to be doing something like this. I told her about how hard of a time I was having too. We both came to the agreement to stick it out, lead with a more open mind and see what happened That’s exactly what we did.
After that rough first couple of days, I learned to embrace my older host. I learned that searching for excuses for my initial discomfort was only going to prolong the adjustment process, and shorten the amount of time I had to enjoy this INCREDIBLE opportunity I was so privileged to have. That summer was one of the best of my life. I ate some amazing food, learned a beautiful language, and made some lifelong friends. That all being said, homesickness is real, but the quicker you realize how normal it is, the quicker you can ditch it and vivere la tua bella vita!